The Spectacular Deaths Of Viral Games
Once in a while, a game can rise above thousands of others, and capture the gaming world’s attention in a spark. But sometimes, these games die just as quickly. It’s mostly pretty clear what made a certain game so popular, but their dramatic demise can be harder to explain.
Two games in particular stood out this year. The jumping and bouncing jelly beans of Fall Guys, and the murdering and lying astronauts of Among Us grabbed everyone’s attention in a matter of days. They were the talk of the town - among hardcore gamers and a large casual audience. But both games seem to have reached a peak in popularity already, and may soon be forgotten.
Fall Guys and Among Us are similar in many ways. They are easy to understand for players and viewers, with the core game mechanics reduced to a handful of actions. They’re colourful, and family-friendly. They’re party games that gave us all the opportunity to have some fun with family and friends during this year’s lockdowns and quarantines. Perhaps these strengths are also their greatest weaknesses.
These kinds of games can be picked up in minutes, which means they can be enjoyed by everyone - even people who normally wouldn’t consider themselves gamers. It also means the games might be lacking in depth to keep players around for long. Sure, people came up with strategies for certain levels in Fall Guys, but after playing for a while, every level is going to play out in more or less the same way.
Game developers try to fight issues with replayability by updating the game and releasing new content. Mediatonic, the developer of Fall Guys, didn’t get much time to do so. The game boomed so much at launch that the servers couldn’t even keep up with the thousands of players waiting to get into a lobby. Before the team released new levels and variations on old levels, the number of daily players was nowhere near the initial spike.
The casual audience that social party games like Fall Guys and Among Us attract might be more difficult to retain. Hardcore gamers might stick around more, spending a lot of hours behind their PC or console. A more casual gamer probably has more other hobbies to attend to, and could lose interest in these games more quickly.
The fact that content creators play a big role in a game’s popularity too, is something we can clearly see with Among Us. Among Us was released in 2018, but only got a large player base in late 2020. Chance “Sodapoppin” Morris was the first big Twitch streamer to play Among Us with other streamers, which lead to the viral success of the game. Twitch streamers wanted to play the social game with other Twitch streamers, and so the fame of the game spread across the platform to different audiences. Even if a streamer wasn’t playing Among Us, their viewers kept asking them to play it. This explosive growth of content around the game can lead to oversaturation.
Fall Guys was so popular when the game launched; it was practically hugged to death. Everyone was playing it; every streamer was streaming it, every artist with a bit of free time was making fanart about it. It’s fun while it lasts, but it’s not the variety that the streamers and gamers are used to. They look for other games to play, too. By trying to get in on the hype, content creators over-popularise the game, leading to the game fading away faster.
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In all areas, Fall Guys suffered from success. The servers were overloaded, and a different problem reared its ugly head: cheaters infiltrated the game with hacks that let them fly through the obstacle courses. Gamers got fed up with the issues the game was dealing with and left to play other games. The fall of Fall Guys can also be explained by the rise of Among Us. People move on to the next fad and leave other games behind.
It’s hard to say if Among Us will follow the same road as Fall Guys. Even though it’s already dwindling in popularity, there's hope for Among Us. Compared to the 3D-physics based action in Fall Guys, a lot of the action in Among Us is based on player interactions. It gives every round a different feel, and it makes the game more interesting to play with different friends online.
Among Us was working on a sequel, but decided against that to release new content for the current game. The fact that Among Us is available on mobile devices for free, gives it a huge boost. Fall Guys may have been free to play on PlayStation 4 at launch, the mobile market is enormous for games like these. Maybe Among Us can grasp people’s attention a little bit longer.
Images via InnerSloth | Mediatonic